The United States observes Veterans Day on November 11 each year. The public holiday pays homage to U.S. Armed Forces veterans. Formerly it was called Armistice Day.
The date signifies the anniversary of the end of the First World War, when the Armistice signed with Germany took effect at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Other countries that are celebrating the memorial call it Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.
The name of the federal holiday was changed to Veterans Day in 1945 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Just in case you are wondering, the holiday is written without an apostrophe because it is a plural noun and not a possessive noun. The day does not belong to veterans; rather, it is a day to honor all veterans, not only those who perished during World War I.
The History of Veterans Day
Before we discuss the activities, let’s talk a little bit about WWI and the casualties of war on both sides before the Armistice was drafted and signed.
- World War I was fought for four years, three months and two weeks.
- It started on July 28, 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918.
- The war was fought in Europe, the Middle East, off the coast of North and South America, the Indian Ocean, China, the Pacific Islands and Africa.
- It was a war that escalated between the major factions. The Central Powers included the German, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Bulgaria, South African Republic, Dervish movement (Somalia), Sultanate of Darfur and more. The Allied Powers were composed of France, the British Empire, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, Japan, Belgium, Italy, Romania, Portugal, the United States, Emirate of Nejd and Hasa, Idrisid Emirate of Asir, Thailand (Siam), Greece, China, Brazil, Armenia, Commonwealth of Australia, British India, Union of South Africa, Dominion of New Zealand and other countries.
- The Allied Forces had 42,959,850 personnel while the Central Powers had 25,248,321.
- The total casualties (civilians and military) from both sides (dead, wounded and missing) were in the millions.
Celebration of Veterans Day in other countries
Depending on which country you’re in, the holiday may be called differently, as several countries were involved in what is considered one of the world’s greatest wars. In Belgium, France, Martinique, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe and French Guiana, it is called Armistice Day. It’s called Remembrance Day in Canada, United Kingdom (as Remembrance Sunday), Isle of Man and Cayman Islands. The United States and Puerto Rico call it Veterans Day.
As different as the way they call the holiday are the commemorative celebrations they observe to mark Veterans Day.
Remembrance Day is a federal statutory holiday and a public holiday in parts of Canada. It is observed in six provinces and three territories. In Manitoba, the retail business is prohibited between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. It is not a general holiday in Manitoba but many industries cease operation on the day, with some exceptions such as health care, social and utility services. Some companies in Ontario allow their employees to go on a break but this is not a general requirement.
Nova Scotia observes Remembrance Day, and some employers provide additional benefits. It is not a statutory holiday in Quebec, but companies have the option to give their employees a holiday or a holiday with pay depending on when Remembrance Day falls.
In places where Remembrance Day is observed, the day begins with a special mass, playing of “The Last Post“, a reading of “Ode of Remembrance” (4th verse) and observance of two minutes of silence at exactly 11 a.m. Later, they lay wreaths at their local war memorials. At the main war memorial in Ottawa, the National War Memorial, Canadian armed services representatives attend a special service before laying wreaths, including at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. People usually wear red paper poppies on this day.
Interestingly, poppies robustly grow in disturbed grounds such as battlefields.
2. United States
In the United States, many homes are decorated with the American flag. There will be numerous church services to pray for the fallen and give those thanks, wreath laying and parades. Typically, two minutes of silence starting at 11 a.m. is observed. Because it is a holiday, banks, government offices and schools are closed. Some schools choose to remain open because they conduct various activities. Other businesses seize the opportunity to offer sales events.
3. United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, members of the media and the public usually wear a poppy on their lapels at least a month before Remembrance Day. During the month before November 11, 40 million poppies are distributed by the Royal British Legion for the public to wear to honor their veterans. Throughout the UK a two-minute silence at 11 in the morning is observed.
Armistice Day in France is commemorated with parades in various parts of the country that end at their local war memorials. Representatives from the armed forces lay wreaths at the war memorial, including the Ring of Remembrance, an international war memorial in Notre Dame and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that is located in Paris. A grand parade is held at the Arc de Triomphe. In France, the day is a day of reflection. They also have a one-minute silence at the 11th hour. Because it is a holiday, shops, offices and banks are closed and most people wear dark or black clothing during the day.
Armistice Day is a public holiday in Belgium and the celebration starts with a Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. A bugler plays the music to remember their veterans. People drop poppies from the top of the gate. Similar to France, they also hold a one-minute silence at 11 a.m. The mood is somber as banks, offices and shops are closed.
In several countries, Veterans Day is commemorated at different dates. Even so, for them, it is a special day to honor and give thanks to the veterans they lost during the wars. Here are some of them.
6. New Zealand and Australia
These two countries Down Under, which are parts of the British Commonwealth, honor the soldiers they have lost at Gallipoli in Turkey during WWI with Anzac Day. The event is commemorated each year on April 25. Soldiers and war veterans in Australia and New Zealand attend a commemorative service at dawn. Afterwards, they will hold a parade of veterans and the men and women who have retired from the military. Today Anzac Day also commemorates the veterans of World War II.
Germany honors their veterans on the Sunday that is nearest to November 16. The day is called Volkstrauertag. It starts with the German President and the German Chancellor giving speeches in front of the assembled members of the diplomatic corps and government officials. After the speech, the German national anthem is played. It is followed immediately by the playing of I had a Comrade (Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden), a traditional German song of lament of the country’s armed forces. In the provinces, veterans stage marches after hearing mass towards the war memorials to pay respect to their fallen comrades.
November 4 is the day Italy honors its fallen soldiers and the end of WWI. Italy mainly fought the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the conflict on their side ended earlier than the rest of the world.
9. The Netherlands
On the last Saturday of June, the Netherlands honors all those who served in the military. They call the day Veteranendag. After the country started to send troops to Afghanistan, the day became more important. Their celebration of Veterans Day begins with a ceremony at the Hall of Knights with the King of the Netherlands in attendance. They usually hold a parade towards The Hague where civilians and veterans meet at the Malieveld, an area similar to the National Mall in the United States.
In previous years, Nigeria celebrated Remembrance Day on November 11 because it is a part of the British Commonwealth. Today, Nigeria puts more importance on military casualties from the Nigerian Civil War that ended in 1970 and honors them annually on January 15.
Sweden pays homage to their war veterans and those men and women who joined the UN Peacekeepers. The day is celebrated each year on May 29, marked with a huge ceremony at the country’s capital, Stockholm. It’s a tradition for the Swedish Royal Family to attend the event.
One of the countries to celebrate Veterans Day in recent years is Norway. They hold their Veterandagen every year on May 8. The day honors the World War II veterans, the members of the UN Peacekeepers and those who served in other international conflicts. Veterans Day in Norway started in 2010. The day also marks Victory in Europe Day, the day the Allied Forces formally accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany in WWII.
Veterans Day or Armistice Day or Remembrance Day is not only celebrated in the United States. Many of the countries that fought in World War I and World War II and the other more recent major conflicts are honored by their home countries in their unique way. But despite the differences in the dates and the way they celebrate the day, each country expresses thanks to the men and women who fought valiantly to restore peace and preserve humankind.
We salute and give thanks to all veterans around the world and pray that peace will reign everywhere.
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